The winners and losers of the MotoGP Portuguese Grand Prix

Round five of the 2022 MotoGP World Championship took place in Portugal, and yet again, it was a far from ordinary Grand Prix. 

2022 Portuguese Grand Prix MotoGP podium with Fabio Quartararo, Johann Zarco, Aleix Espargaro.

THE 2022 MotoGP season started, as usual, in the bizarre Qatar, where 90 minutes of the practice sessions are meaningless, and the race is unrepresentative of the rest of the season. Then, the Indonesian race took place on a greatly imperfect track surface with an unusual rear tyre, and then the race was wet; the Argentinian race took place over two days; the Grand Prix of the Americas is run at the vastly unique Circuit of the Americas; and now the Portuguese Grand Prix was a washout until qualifying, meaning everyone went into the dry race on Sunday with no data. 

So, we still do not know anything about this season, really. But we do know who won, and who lost, in MotoGP’s most recent visit to the Algarve. 

Fabio Quartararo won the race, but he is not the first ‘winner’ on this week’s list. No, that is Alex Rins. 

Winner - Alex Rins

The Suzuki rider had a dreadful qualifying, finishing Q1 in 13th, meaning he started the race 23rd out of the 24 starters (despite the addition of Lorenzo Savadori, the grid remained the usual size of 24 thanks to the injury of Raul Fernandez in qualifying). However, Rins’ start and first lap put him in a perfect position to do a great damage limitation job

Ending the first lap in 10th, Rins was able to get up to sixth place, before the crash of Jack Miller and Rins’ teammate Joan Mir promoted the Suzuki rider to fourth, where he finished. 

After the Texan race, Marc Marquez was entered in the ‘losers’ section, after making a tremendous comeback from last to sixth, losing almost no time in the process. The reason for that was that, without his bad start that left him in last to begin with, Marquez could probably have won the race, so he lost a win. Rins, on the other hand, did not lose out on a win from his bad qualifying and, in fact, it might not have even cost him a podium. 

While Marc Marquez lost almost no time in his fight through the pack in Austin, despite the overtakes he had to make, Alex Rins lost three seconds between lap 16 and lap 25 to the race winner Fabio Quartararo. 

In comparison, Aleix Espargaro - who was directly in front of Rins from lap eight onwards - stayed pretty much where he was in relation to Quartararo (he made up time overall, but Quartararo also backed the pace off slightly at the end). Especially since Rins only overtook four riders in the opening eight laps, it is possible to say that his race pace would not have looked a great deal different had he started at the front, and he would have been overcome by the likes of Johann Zarco and Aleix Espargaro - who both finished on the podium behind Quartararo - in any case. 

Again, Portimao was a strange race due to the rain throughout free practice, and since the Suzuki is producing a lot more power this year, it is understandable that the bike might take longer to set-up on a weekend, compared to the Yamaha in particular that is quite similar to last year, or even the Ducati GP22 of Zarco which, although new, has almost three times as much data than the GSX-RR thanks to the number of riders using that bike. 

The most important thing about Rins’ ride is that, like in Austin, he found himself in a position where, last year, he would have crashed out.

Forcing his way through the pack in previous years was done with panic and desperation, whereas this year - in part because of Rins’ more relaxed attitude, but also because of the performance of the bike (which, in fairness, could also be a contributing factor to the new mental state of the rider) - it is more comfortable for him to make these overtakes. Also, crucially, when he saw Espargaro riding away from him in the second half of the race, he continued to not panic, and instead profited from the mistake of Jack Miller which ended Joan Mir’s race. 

It was not a perfect weekend for Suzuki, but Rins still found himself in the top positions, scoring good points. While everyone else is up-and-down, Rins continues to be consistent. It is a surprise after 2021, but that makes it all the more impressive. At this stage, he might be the outright title favourite. 

Winner - Fabio Quartararo

That might be a controversial statement at this moment, since Fabio Quartararo just won by five seconds. The problem with Quartararo is that his bike is going to limit him to sevenths and eighths many more times this season, and there is very little he is going to be able to do about that. 

Nonetheless, he is a ‘winner’ of Portimao. In part, this is because he won the race, but it is also because he beat the next Yamaha - that of Andrea Dovizioso - by 29 seconds.

It is going to be very hard for Fabio Quartararo to defend his title in 2022. This is in part because of what he complains about (horsepower) and in part because of what the other Yamaha riders complain about (rear grip). The combination of these two deficiencies means that the Yamaha does not accelerate well, and acceleration is one of the most important points in MotoGP. 

The other most important point is braking, where Quartararo is very strong, but, when riding in a group, it is impossible for hard braking to compensate for such a drastic shortcoming in the straights, because in the group the front tyre temperature and pressure goes up, so the grip goes down, and you cannot enter the corner as you want. 

It must be said that Quartararo’s race was fantastic. He understands, at this point, very well what is required to win on a YZR-M1. You have to get to the front, and then you have to ride away. You cannot afford to be involved in a battle, because the others around you have machine advantages that, in the context of a battle, it is difficult - sometimes too difficult - to overcome. 

So, he made a great start, and then he passed quickly to go from third to the lead by lap four. From there, he was able to escape the clutches of Joan Mir, and no one else had the pace to challenge Quartararo. He took his second victory at the Portimao circuit - where it has been pretty much feast or famine for the French rider since it appeared on the calendar at the end of 2020 - and in doing so proved to Yamaha that if they do not retain him for 2022, they will have no hope of winning, and maybe even little hope of a top 10. 

Yamaha must bring a new engine soon, one with a lot of power. It almost does not matter if it ruins the handling of the bike at this point, or if it is unreliable. They must show to Quartararo that they are listening to his concerns and demands about the bike and the development direction, or they will lose him. His teammate, Franco Morbidelli, is a three-times Grand Prix winner for Yamaha, but he finished in 13th, 33 seconds behind the #20. 

Winner - MotoGP World Championship

Quartararo’s win might have been Yamaha’s loss, but the race itself was an overall win for the MotoGP World Championship. 

There have now been four winners in 2022: Enea Bastianini, Miguel Oliveira, Aleix Espargaro and now Fabio Quartararo. The Frenchman is the only rider who, coming into the season, might have been viewed as a title contender, and yet he has been just as inconsistent as the other winners. 

Bastianini, when he has not won, has been nowhere. In Indonesia, he finished 11th, and in Argentina he struggled to 10th. Then, in Portimao, he crashed while chasing Marc Marquez, and gave up his championship lead.

Miguel Oliveira’s win in Indonesia is his only top four finish of the season. He crashed in Qatar, was 13th in Argentina, 18th in Texas, and fifth in Portugal, where in 2020 he was dominant. 

Aleix Espargaro and Fabio Quartararo are the only two of this year’s winners to be on the podium twice. But, for Aleix, his podiums in Argentina and Portimao are joined by only one other top six finish, when he was fourth in Qatar. Other than that, the Spaniard was ninth in Indonesia, and 11th in Texas. And, for Quartararo, his best result when he has missed the podium has been seventh. 

So far in 2022, there have been 125 points up for grabs, and Quartararo - who now leads the championship after his Portimao success - has scored 69 of them. That means over two race wins worth of points have been given up by the championship leader. 

Alex Rins, now the most consistent rider of the season with a worst finish of seventh, and a best of second. He ties Quartararo at the top of the championship, but has not yet won. 

In fact, the top four in the championship are covered by just eight points, and Joan Mir - despite his crash - is only 23 points behind Quartararo and Rins in sixth in the championship.

Further down are more heavy hitters; in particular Francesco Bagnaia and Marc Marquez. They both have 38 points to make up on the points leaders, but they also both have reasons to be optimistic. 

For Marquez, he knows that Portimao has not been one of his best tracks, and he has 50% of the MotoGP experience there of the rest of the field. Additionally, the new Honda is still very early in its development, so a sixth place on a weekend with no set-up time is not a disaster. He and Honda will get stronger as the season continues.

On Bagnaia’s side, despite his crash and hospital trip on Saturday, he had his best ride of the season in Portugal, overcoming Pol Espargaro for eighth place on the final lap after starting last. It seems that Ducati are figuring out their GP22, and with 16 races still to go they, like Honda, will only grow into the season. Bagnaia’s physical condition will be tested this weekend in Jerez, but his strength there in recent years will make him a pre-event favourite for the podium. 

The inconsistency at the front has been a blessing for the likes of Marquez and Bagnaia - and even Jorge Martin, who crashed out of his third race out of five in Portugal - who remain - just - in championship contention despite their difficult respective starts to the season. 

Loser - Maverick Vinales

We are now onto the ‘losers’, and the first is Maverick Vinales. He finished 10th in Portugal, 18 seconds off the winner and 12 seconds down on his teammate, Aleix Espargaro.

After the race, Vinales expressed his desire to not change his style to fit the Aprilia, and said that the bike must be brought to his style by the Aprilia engineers. That attitude might have worked in the past, pre-Argentina.

But now the RS-GP is a winner, and Espargaro’s podium in Portimao proves that the bike is also versatile. It can compete anywhere, and so Vinales, in fact, must adapt to it if he wants to succeed in Noale, because currently they have no incentive to move towards him (especially if there is some young talent currently in Borgo Panigale that becomes available at the end of the season).  

Indeed, the current situation with Vinales is becoming akin to that of his situation in Yamaha, where he constantly complained about the bike, and struggled in the first laps. This weekend, in Portugal, Vinales went from his grid slot of 14th to 17th on the opening lap, and fought back to 14th by lap four. However, he did not run a 1’39 until lap 14 and, while his pace at the end of the race was comparable to Quartararo, his pace in the first half of the race was around one second adrift per lap of the race winner. 

Additionally, while Vinales went from 14th on lap four to 10th at the flag, that involved no overtakes. He benefited from the crashes of Brad Binder, Enea Bastianini, Jorge Martin, Joan Mir and Jack Miller, and was passed by Francesco Bagnaia. 

Vinales must start to match Espargaro soon, or he will find that Aprilia finds him as expendable as he found Yamaha. 

Loser - Ducati

As previously mentioned, Ducati are beginning to sort out their GP22, and their ‘number one’ rider had his best race of the year in Portimao.

With two or three more laps, Bagnaia might have ended up sixth rather than eighth, but the reason he did not is part of why Ducati is in this week’s ‘loser’ section.

Bagnaia’s start to the season had been average at best. One point from the opening two races was followed up by top fives in Argentina and Austin. But, a crash in Portimao qualifying meant he had to start from last in the Portuguese Grand Prix. The crash came about - surely - in part due to the mounting pressure from the early races. He entered the race 38 points down on the then points leader Enea Bastianini, and missed direct Q2 qualification in FP3. On a drying track, Bagnaia took a gamble, because he felt he had to, because he could not afford to be outside of the front rows. Instead, his gamble backfired and he started from the back row. 

Fortunately for Bagnaia, he leaves Portimao with exactly the same deficit to the championship leader - now Fabio Quartararo - he had going into the Algarve race: 38 points.

But, his speed in the race shows that he could have had more. Similarly, Enea Bastianini showed good speed in the first part of the race, but he crashed and gave away his championship lead; Jorge Martin crashed out for the third time this season (albeit one was not his fault); and Jack Miller mirrored in Portimao Bagnaia’s Qatar crash with Martin at turn one, when the Australian folded the front and took out Joan Mir while fighting for the podium. 

However, it is not all doom and gloom for Ducati. Miller’s speed and pace in both Texas and Portimao, as well as Bagnaia’s in Portugal and Argentina, suggests they are getting around their issues with the GP22, and Johann Zarco finished on the Portuguese podium. So, while the Bologna brand overall lost out in Portugal, there are positives, and it should start to turn around also on paper soon. 

Loser - All of Celestino Vietti's Title Rivals

For the final ‘loser’ of 2022, we are taking a step down to the Moto2 field to find the championship in a much worse state than it was at the start of the weekend. 

After his COTA crash, the early championship leader, Celestino Vietti, had a 14-point lead over Honda Team Asia’s Ai Ogura in the intermediate class championship. After Portugal, the Italian has 34 points in hand on Ogura; 36 over Austin winner Tony Arbolino; and 41 over Aron Canet, who had been very consistent in the opening three races of the season, before DNFs in both Austin and Portimao.

Vietti’s advantage has grown so much because of rain at turn two midway through the Moto2 race. The result of the rain was that almost all of the top 10 runners at that point in the Grand Prix were taken out, and the rules stated that they were not allowed to restart. 

There was controversy about the amount of time it took to throw the red flag, but, as David Emmett pointed out on Twitter, there were only 14 seconds between Cameron Beaubier - who was in second place at the time of the crash - losing traction at his rear wheel and the red flag being thrown. 

In racing, 14 seconds is a huge amount of time, but from the perspective of Race Direction, it was not a huge window. Additionally, had they, for example, halved the time between Beaubier losing traction and throwing the red flag, there is no guarantee that it would have made much difference, since you are also relying on the flags to be out almost immediately, and for the riders to see the red flags. 

Absolutely, the red flag could have been thrown sooner, but at the same time it is not certain that it would have prevented many of the crashes.

Thankfully, most of the riders walked away from the incident unharmed. However, Aron Canet was not one of those. He suffered a broken radius bone, which was operated on yesterday (25 April 2022), and he is not yet ruled out of racing in Jerez.

Canet was leading at the time. In fact, at the time of the crash, he was on course to repeat his 2017 pattern of crashing out of almost certain victory in Texas, before winning his first win in the class at the next race. Back then, Canet was in Moto3 and handed the Texas win on a plate to Romano Fenati, before winning his first Moto3 race in Jerez two weeks later. This time it would have been a first Moto2 win two weeks on from a COTA crash, but the rain meant that the honours were taken by another previously winless rider in Moto2: Joe Roberts. 

Roberts was looking like one of the next big things in GPs while at the American Racing Team. In fact, he was offered an Aprilia ride at the end of 2020, but chose to go to Italtrans instead. The idea was simple: go to the championship-winning team of 2020, win the title in 2021, and then get on a race winning MotoGP bike in 2022. It has not gone like that, and as Roberts has struggled to adapt to the Italtrans team, Aprilia have become MotoGP winners with Aleix Espargaro. 

Now, though, Roberts is also a winner, too; the first from America in Grand Prix racing since Ben Spies in Assen 2011, and the first in the intermediate class since John Kocinski in 1990. 

Roberts’ win elevated him to fourth in the World Championship, and he is also now the only rider in the intermediate class to have scored points in every race this season. But, even he is 41 points down on Vietti at this stage. 

The next races, starting in Jerez this weekend, will be critical for a lot of riders with title ambitions, while Vietti is now afforded an extra mistake thanks to six of his closest title rivals not scoring in Portimao, and will therefore be able to ride looser, and more freedom. At least, that is the idea. The alternative is that Vietti is overwhelmed by such a strong position so early in the season, tightens up and relinquishes said position.